As the NFL season approaches, many eyes will be on the league's youngest players, and what they can do for their team. Several high profile players are still 25 and under and will be stars for many years to come. Here is a list of some of the best young players in the NFL (Note: Includes players that are 25 and under until Opening Night on September 10):
Andrew Luck (25), QB, Indianapolis Colts
Not only is he the best player 25 and under, but he’s also in discussion for the top spot in the entire NFL. Touted as a historic prospect, Luck has lived up to all the hype, leading the Colts to three straight playoff appearances. At such a young age, Luck has accomplished so much and has many years ahead in the NFL.
Luke Kuechly (24), LB, Carolina Panthers
Luke Kuechly simply gets to the ball carrier as good as anybody in the NFL. In two of three NFL seasons, he has led the league in tackles. He’s the best young defender in the game and rising to the top in the NFL, having made two straight Pro Bowls. In just his second year, he won the Defensive Player of the Year Award; the only others to win it within their first two seasons: Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt.
Odell Beckham Jr. (22), WR, New York Giants
Best known for the one-handed catch, his incredible rookie season was seemingly overshadowed by that one play. He rewrote dozens of franchise and NFL rookie receiving records, hauling in 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns on 91 receptions. To little surprise, these impressive stats earned him the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. And he only played in 12 games, while playing through hamstring injuries.
Patrick Peterson (25), CB, Arizona Cardinals
Patrick Peterson has four years in the league and four Pro Bowl honors. Since he’s come into the league, he’s been among the top cornerbacks and playmakers in the NFL. There’s a reason why the Cardinals made him one of the highest paid defenders in the NFL. Peterson is a premier player, especially considering the emphasis on the passing game in the league.
Le’Veon Bell (23), RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
After a solid rookie season, Le’Veon Bell exploded last year, finishing the season with the second most rushing yards. He ran for 200+ yards in three straight games, which tied an NFL record. He took home a whole slew of awards and honors, including a Pro Bowl appearance, All-Pro recognition, AFC Co-Offensive Player of the Year, and the FedEx Ground Player of the Year award. The only knock on him is a two game suspension for a marijuana possession and DUI.
T.Y. Hilton (25), WR, Indianapolis Colts
After beginning his career deep in the depth chart, Hilton has gradually progressed with each season and more chances. On 82 receptions, Hilton gained 1,345 yards and 7 touchdowns, making him a true deep threat with such great speed. Now that the Colts have Andre Johnson, Hilton’s stats may naturally decrease some, but he should also get more one-on-one opportunities to do some serious damage to defenses.
Tyron Smith (24), LT, Dallas Cowboys
While Tyron Smith is surely the best young lineman in the NFL, there can certainly be an argument that he is the best at his position among anybody in the NFL. There’s a reason why the Cowboys made him the highest paid offensive lineman by paying him $109 million over eight seasons. The Cowboys have built one of the league’s best offensive lines, and Smith is certainly a factor in that.
Robert Quinn (25), DE, St. Louis Rams
The St. Louis Rams have several weapons along their defensive lines, and Robert Quinn has established himself as one of the league’s premier pass rushers. For the past three seasons, he has racked up at least 10.5 sacks. The Rams are no team to look past, as they could be a serious contender because of this stout defense. The offense just needs to stay healthy if they want to make a playoff run because the defense can certainly be top notch.
Khalil Mack (24), LB, Oakland Raiders
Khalil Mack’s rookie season was very strong, although the high expectations for him are what make him most exciting. In college play, he holds the all time record for tackles for a loss and forced fumbles. The Oakland Raiders are expecting this type of production from him, as he showed his best production against the rush last year.
Marcell Dareus (25), DT, Buffalo Bills
Like so many other young players, Marcell Dareus only continues to get better, and opposing quarterbacks should be frightened. Last year, he raked in 10 sacks at defensive tackle, making him one of the best pass rushers at the position. Much like the Rams, the Bills have built one of the league’s best defensive lines.
Lavonte David (25), LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For the entirety of his three-year career, Lavonte David has been around the top of the league in total tackles. His ability to find the ball carrier and shed blockers propels him to star status at linebacker. He’s also shown that he can get to the quarterback and play coverage, making him a threat anywhere on the field, depending on what he’s called upon to do.
Muhammad Wilkerson (25), DE, New York Jets
Opposite Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson takes care of the left side of the defense just as well. Without Richardson for a few games, he will have to pick up on some of the lost production. After battling an injury for some of the season, a healthy Wilkerson should be able to contribute even more to an already great defense.
Eddie Lacy (25), RB, Green Bay Packers
Even though the Packers have one of the best passing games in the NFL, Eddie Lacy makes them truly balanced on offense. Lacy is one of the premier power backs in the league, as his ability to break tackles is hardly matched. The Packers offense is top notch, much in part to his strong contribution to the team.
Sheldon Richardson (24), DE, New York Jets
After winning Rookie of the Year, he followed that up with a Pro Bowl invitation, highlighted by eight sacks over the course of the season. However, a four-game suspension, as well as charges stemming from another recent off-the-field incident, will put a damper on his total production for the season. The Jets will miss him over the first part of the season, if not longer.
DeAndre Hopkins (23), WR, Houston Texans
After racking up over 1200 yards and catching six touchdowns, Hopkins is poised for an even better year with the departure of Andre Johnson. He will become the premier wide receiver on a team that desperately needs him to help out with the uncertainity at quarterback.
Jeremy Hill (22), RB, Cincinnati Bengals
In just his first year in the league, Hill established himself as a premier back, helping the Bengals to another playoff spot. The running game will once again be an essential part to the Bengals' success, and he will be at the forefront of it. He certainly will get more carries this year, and that should only help the Bengals.
Bobby Wagner (25), MLB, Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks have been one of the best teams in the NFL for the past few years much in part to the youth of their team. While much of the focus is given to the Seahawks' secondary, Wagner has played a crucial role in their success. He manages over 100 tackles in just 11 games last year, sidelined for some due to an injury. The difference of him on and off the field was remarkable, as they cut their points allowed significantly in the games he wasn't in and the ones he came back for after the injury.
Justin Tucker (25), K, Baltimore Ravens
There may be no other time where kickers will be so important than the upcoming season, as the extra point has been moved back. For the Ravens, however, this rule change shouldn’t make a difference because of Justin Tucker’s accuracy from anywhere. The distance never seems to faze Tucker, who has established himself as one of the league’s best kickers.
Other notable players: Mark Ingram, Giovani Bernard, Paul Worrilow